Meet The Death Row Ten: A Burge Torture Victim Speaks Out

"It Took So Much From Me"


This page has been reserved in recent issues for profiling the cases of the Death Row 10 -- a group of men who were beaten and tortured by former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and his detectives and sent to death row in Illinois.

But there were other victims of Burge’s reign of torture who, even if they weren’t sentenced to death, spent many years in prison -- many, of course, are still there.

David Bates spent 11 years in an Illinois prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Like the Death Row 10, he was also a Burge torture victim who was forced to give a false confession. He was exonerated and freed in 1994.

Recently, Bates spoke at the Campaign to End the Death Penalty’s panel, "Support the Death Row 10," at the Socialist Summer School 2001 conference in June. Other panelists included exonerated Illinois death row inmates Darby Tillis and Ronald Jones; Death Row 10 moms Costella Cannon and Jeanette Johnson; Flint Taylor of the People’s Law Office; and Joan Parkin, author of the new pamphlet Justice for the Death Row 10.

Here are excerpts from David’s remarks.


Coming to Cook County Jail at 17 years of age after being through the thing with Burge, it was a total embarrassment. Here I am, supposed to be one of the young tough guys from the streets, being forced to sign a confession, to sign away my life.

I had to keep that with me for so long. We blamed ourselves for signing statements. We thought we weren’t tough. We called ourselves cowards within.

It took so much from me. I thought I was less of a man -- that I wasn’t tough enough to withstand [being suffocated with] that plastic bag. That I wasn’t tough enough to take the slaps, the kicks.

My first experience with white people was at that police station. The only thing I’m going to say about that is the experience has made me as tough as nails. Nothing in this world can intimidate me now.

It’s taken so long for me to be able get up in front of a podium. I had to find myself. I had to find employment. I had to develop myself and make a successful transition back into life.

That day, October 29, the day I was tortured -- the time, the minutes, the seconds -- I could go and relive it and tell you as if just happened yesterday. If I had kept that in my mind daily, I wouldn’t have made it for 11-and-a-half years of prison. So I blocked it away.

This is one of the first times I’ve been able to go back. Looking at brothers like Darby Tillis and Ronald Jones, I can tell what they went through. I can see their tears. I can see the times in their cells with nobody to hear, nobody to listen, nobody to talk to about statements, because it’s taboo in prison. You can’t tell guys you were beat up and forced to sign a statement, so you just keep it within.

I just want to say one thing about this [Justice for the Death Row 10 pamphlet]. This was the most important book I’ve picked up since I’ve been out.

Looking at these pictures, I know half these people from County Jail. The Mahaffey guy. I saw this guy at the County. I couldn’t believe this picture I saw. This picture tells me about everybody on death row. This is the look they have that they don’t want to show you.

I did a lot of time in segregation. We didn’t even get an hour out a day. We stayed in the cell nearly 24 hours a day. No phone calls. No haircuts. We got one shower a week, then back in the cell.

That was to make me weak. It just made me so strong, though. Instead of losing my mind in that cell, I learned how to type, how to write, learned about my history, learned about everything I needed to know.

Then I got plugged into the People’s Law Office. And it’s been uphill ever since. I didn’t find the law office. They found me. They came knocking on the penitentiary door: "We’re here to help you, Mr. Bates." I’m like, what the hell are they talking about? I was thinking, "I can’t relate to white people." But they fought with me.

I just appreciate you guys for coming out here. How many moms are sitting at home right now -- just trying to hold on to life so they can hold their sons.

I’m sure Mrs. Cannon can relate to what I’m talking about. She can’t hold her son [Frank Bounds, who died on Illinois’ death row of untreated cancer], but she can hold somebody else’s son.

And with ladies like this, brothers like this and people like you, we’re going to beat the system.